The Common Cause Handbook

January 2012
Handbook produced by the Public Interest Research Centre

An accessible overview of some of the key ideas and social science behind the work of Common Cause.

Though now several years old, this report still provides an accurate overview of key elements of the social science upon which Common Cause is built. It provides an introduction to a social psychological understanding of values and why these are important, introduces the Schwartz values model and Grouzet aspiration index (both models upon which we draw extensively) and conveys an understanding of the way in which values interact dynamically (the compatibilities and tensions between different values).

Some important concepts, which we have developed or helped to publicise since the Handbook was published, are omitted. These include the work that we have since on the effect that communications about one cause can have in strengthening (or undermining) expressions of concern about seemingly unrelated causes (see No Cause is an Island), and recent research on the importance of the perception gap (the widespread tendency to underestimate the importance that our fellow citizens place on intrinsic values). We are also now able to reflect on our experience, over many years, of applying these insights practically (see, for example Discover and Share).

The Handbook was written by folk at the Public Interest Research Centre, and commissioned by WWF-UK, Oxfam and Action for Children. Read on five continents, there’s even (we think) a photo of someone reading it in Antarctica.

Read
this if...

  • You want an accessible introduction to some of the key ideas upon which Common Cause is based
  • You are engaged in social and environmental transformation, either professionally or as a concerned citizen of the world, but find yourself feeling frustrated about the speed and scale of change
  • You want to develop a better understanding of what motivates people to care about social and environmental justice

Keys Takeaways

  1. We cannot afford to overlook the importance of values in motivating expressions of social and environmental concern.
  2. Prioritising intrinsic values, such as freedom, creativity, equality and unity with nature, is closely related to political engagement, concern about social justice, environmentally-friendly behaviours and lower levels of prejudice.
  3. In contrast, prioritising extrinsic values, such as wealth, public image and power, is generally associated with higher levels of prejudice, less concern about the environment and human rights and more manipulative behaviour.
  4. Values can be temporarily ‘engaged’, when brought to mind by certain communications or experiences, which affects our attitudes and behaviours.
  5. Repeated engagement of values is likely to strengthen them over time, emphasising the importance of recognising the cultural values waters we swim in.
  6. Through an understanding of values, we can identify the importance of examining what values we want to endorse in our work for change.

Other resources
you might like

Perceptions Matter: Report & Summary

Discover and share: ways to promote positive values in arts and cultural settings

No cause is an island: How People are Influenced by Values Regardless of the Cause

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